DECATUR - A new legislative map has changed the rules of the game for Decatur-area politicians, and the shakeup will begin playing out at the ballot box during the March 20 primary elections.
The once-a-decade redistricting uses U.S. Census data to form legislative districts in which candidates campaign for election. Lawmakers craft the map in a process often criticized as highly partisan. For the first time in decades, Macon County will be under one congressional district, the 13th. Under the previous map, parts of Decatur fell under three districts, with some Decatur voters casting ballots in the same race as people in the Quad-Cities area.
"That's a positive thing," Macon County Clerk Steve Bean said of the single district in Congress. "The negative thing is they went in and cut up the county for the legislative map."
Springfield Democrats had control of the process last year. As in previous decades, the map revealed in 2011 was drawn away from the eyes of the public and passed by Democratic majorities in the General Assembly scarcely a day after it was aired publicly.
What it means for Decatur and the rest of Macon County will only truly be known after another 10 years have passed. Like the previous decade, the next will see Decatur split into two Illinois Senate Districts, the 48th and 51st, with three House Districts within the boundaries of the county: The 96th, 101st and 102nd.
The 48th Illinois Senate District stretches from the area surrounding Bunker Hill northeast through Springfield and eastward to scoop up the downtown Decatur area in what Bean called "a horseshoe," leaving virtually the rest of Macon County to the 51st Senate District. Within the 48th, the 96th Illinois House District lumps downtown Decatur in with the east side of Springfield.
Bean, a Democrat, said redistricting is always bound to cause confusion among some voters.
"A lot of people don't have any idea until the election really starts going, and they don't realize who their state rep or state senator is going to be," Bean said.
In the larger sense, said Larry Klugman, Richland Community College political science professor, the process is how legislators pick their voters instead of the other way around.
"It's really axiomatic that when a particular party has a chance to draw the map, they're going to do so to benefit people in their party," Klugman said. "You look at the voter history of Decatur and Springfield, in the urban areas you get more Democrats, so they broke it out."
This time around, the new 96th House District is an example of how he says Democrats are trying to take advantage of blocs of supporters in "exurban" areas, where they will have representatives who can reliably vote along party lines as well as to the desires of their local voters.
"It's downstate versus the exurbs, the 'burbs and maybe Chicago," Klugman said. "What they're trying to do now is plug in the extra votes and make sure they can create enough strength down here in certain districts that (those lawmakers) can always vote their districts."
Though legislative leaders in charge of drawing the maps always deny any political motivations, new maps seem always to poorly serve members of the opposition party.
State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, led a loud, expensive campaign in 2010 that narrowly unseated incumbent Mount Zion Democrat Bob Flider, costing Illinois Democrats hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in the process. The new map draws Brown into the 96th District, an urban area in which he has opted not to compete. He's running for the 102nd District, which includes some of Macon County, but cuts him off from about half of the voters who just elected him.
The redistricting also came just months after Brown's marriage to a city of Decatur employee who must live within 15 miles of the city. Brown said they knew going in that they should wait on purchasing a house.
"It's going to be quite change for our family, but we prepared for this," Brown said. "We knew the redistricting was coming up, and there was opportunity for the remapping to draw us into a corner, and that's what (Illinois House Speaker) Mike Madigan tried to do."
Brown said despite that, he's optimistic about winning in the 102nd and serving there.
"It's just frustrating, because the general public has a very difficult time keeping up with the changes that are coming their way, and they have very little impact in the process," he said.